As I’ve mentioned from time to time, two of my main passions are travel and music, and whenever I can combine them, I do. It’s led to some of the most memorable experiences of my life – everything from seeing John Williams and Rammstein and Duran Duran perform, to a private concert from a lovely group of Mad Robots.
So when I heard that Perttu Kivilaakso and Eicca Toppinen from Apocalyptica were writing an opera called Indigo to premiere in Helsinki, I knew wanted to be there during its run.
Now, I’m not an opera fan. I mean, I like what I’ve heard well enough, but I know fuck all about it, and I’d never actually seen one through from start to finish. But Perttu is my favourite musician. Most of my favourite Apocalyptica songs were written by him. He was also super active on Facebook at the time, and he seemed genuinely likeable and sweet. And as a fringe benefit, he’s really hot.
So why wouldn’t I go to his opera? It seemed like a perfect opportunity for a proper introduction to the genre, and I’d already been planning a trip to Finland. All this meant was moving the date up by a year.
And that’s how I ended up at the Helsinki Opera House one February evening, at the final performance of Indigo, wearing an Apocalyptica t-shirt, skeleton leggings, and a purple mini skirt to match my purple hair. Because that’s how one dresses for the opera. Right?
As is my habit, I arrived stupid early, so I had plenty of time for a beer and a read-through of one of the sample programs displayed about the venue. Well, a partial read-through, anyway. It was mostly in Finnish, so there was little I could understand, but it did contain an English plot synopsis. I read Act I, but not Act II because I didn’t want to know how the opera ended before it even began.
I enjoyed the show. A lot. But much as I loved the music, I wasn’t entirely sure what all had happened plot-wise. Things got pretty surreal in the second act and, coupled with my not-so-great hearing making understanding the lyrics a challenge, I’d gotten a bit lost. I decided I’d grab a sample program on my way out and read the synopsis for Act II to figure out what I’d missed. Lucky for me, at the base of the stairs exiting my seating area, there was a plinth with a program on it. As the rest of the patrons did the zombie-shuffle towards the exit, I tucked myself out of the way behind the plinth and began reading. My timing was pretty good. The tail end of the crowd was just passing me as I finished, and I fell in at the back and headed for the exit.
It was only because the crowd had already passed by that I spotted Perttu, standing off to one side with a group of people.
“Oh neat,” I thought as I continued to shuffle along, “there’s Perttu.” Then, as I realized what I’d just said to myself, “Holy shit! There’s Perttu!”
There then ensued a silent internal debate. “I should go talk to him,” was followed by, “No, I never know what to say. I’m a huge fan? Like he hasn’t heard that a million times before.” But then I remembered his Facebook posts about being nervous about how the opera would be received and I thought, “Maybe he’d like to know someone would travel so far for more than just his metal music.” This was quickly shot down by, “He’s clearly with a bunch of friends and family. It would be rude to interrupt.”
Decision made, I continued towards the exit.
Until I put my hand in my jacket pocket and felt my camera. “I should at least snap a quick picture,” I thought, “just to show I saw him.” And then came the revelation. “Wait. If I tell Ron I saw Perttu in the lobby and didn’t go talk to him, I’ll never live it down.” I could hear his “Oh, arsehole!” floating all the way across the ocean to me.
Either I had to spend the rest of my life never mentioning I’d seen Perttu in the lobby – like I’d manage to pull that off! – or … I had to go talk to him.
I honestly didn’t want to. I’m not a fan of the whole meet-and-greet thing. It’s artificial and uncomfortable and, as I’ve already mentioned, I never know what to say. Plus I don’t like talking to strangers, I get tongue-tied talking to people I admire, and I am completely incapable of carrying on a conversation with someone I find attractive. Perttu checked all those boxes, so I was going into this at a major disadvantage, quite certain I was going to end up embarrassing the hell out of myself.
To prevent things from going totally off the rails, I came up with a script. “I came from Canada for this. I just wanted to say thank you. Would you mind if I take a picture?” I repeated this to myself as I walked back across the foyer, trying desperately to cement it in my mind and maybe, just maybe, keep from making a fool of myself. “I came from Canada for this. I just wanted to say thank you. Would you mind if I take a picture?”
Perttu was talking to a couple of other fans when I approached. I stood off to the side, waiting patiently for my turn and relieved that there was no one behind me. I didn’t need that kind of added pressure. One of the women was talking his ear off, and eventually Perttu gently disengaged himself while she took a breath, stepped over to me, and shook my hand.
Shit! I did not expect physical contact. Wow, he’s got soft hands, okay, wait, focus. Remember the script.
“Hi!” I squeaked.
“Hi,” Perttu said and let go of my hand.
“Um.” Remember the script. “I came from Canada for this. I – “
Shit! He talking to me! How could I not have factored in that he’d speak? Okay, deep breath, and just remember the fucking script!
“I just w- ”
“Did you like it?”
“Oh!” Okay, that’s an easy one. I can answer that. “I loved it.”
“Um.” I pulled my camera from my pocket. “Would you mind … ?”
His answer was an enthusiastic, “Sure!” and he put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to his side. Just a handshake had been enough to throw me. A side hug? Hellooooooooo, complete and total incoherence!
I began to panic slightly as I realized I can’t take a selfie to save my life. My solution? To thrust the camera at a man standing nearby and mumble, “Would you?” He was clearly startled at the camera that suddenly materialized in his hands, but recovered quickly.
I, however, continued to devolve when Perttu, as the man was trying to figure out the camera controls, said, “This is my father.”
There were so many things I could have said.
I could have said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Or, “You must be very proud.” Or, “You have a very talented son.”
Or, y’know, I could’ve said what I ended up saying, which was “Hi.” Except it sounded more like, “Hargh!” Because that’s how I roll.
And then I stood there, trying not to blink while Perttu’s father tried to get my balky camera to work. It was a long time without blinking. I managed not to sink into the ground when a woman (I’m guessing Perttu’s mother) approached and began to chivvy his father along. Clearly, her patience was wearing thin. Perttu’s father handed my camera back, and I’m about 80% sure I remembered to thank him.
I know I said thank you to Perttu before I turned and began to walk away. But I wasn’t done yet. Because while his mother may have been impatient, Perttu clearly wasn’t. I turned back when I heard his voice.
His expression was earnest as he clasped his hands in front of him and said, in that carefully chosen way when one isn’t speaking one’s native language, “I hope that your trip from Canada was not in vain.”
To my everlasting surprise, my response was clear – not a stutter, nor a squeak, nor a shake to be heard. “I leave for Canada tomorrow, and I can’t think of a better way to end the trip.”
He seemed genuinely pleased by that.
I guess, when it really mattered, I did know what to say.